Can't miss kids?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

EDMONTON -- While it was fitting last year's fairytale stretch drive was scripted by guys who were most recently reading fairytales, there was no guarantee the Edmonton Oilers' Kid Line would be given the opportunity to pen a sequel.

With winger Erik Cole added to the mix and Dustin Penner coming off a 23-goal campaign, Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish had all kinds of viable options when he sat down to assemble his top two lines.

But in the end, he couldn't bring himself to split up the dynamic trio of Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano, at least not without giving them a chance to duplicate their breakout performances of last season.

"I think they're not only going to duplicate it, they're going to improve upon it," said MacTavish, who had the line back together for the first time in a pre-season tilt Thursday against the Florida Panthers.

"They're all guys who are just scratching the surface of the type of players they're going to be. They have a year of experience under their belt, they know how to play the game, they have a high skill level ... There's every reason to think they're not only going to pick up where they left off, but be more prolific."

They showed all kinds of jump that night against the Panthers, with Gagner setting up Nilsson for a second-period power-play goal in a 3-2 shootout victory. They're thrilled to be back together, and it shows.

"Definitely," said Gagner. "The end of last year, for all three of us, was the most fun ever. Now, we have to take the opportunity and show that we belong together again. We're pretty excited about getting the chance."

While skeptics and nervous fans worry about the potential for a sophomore jinx -- and the damage it would do to a team that's depending so heavily on them -- Gagner, Nilsson and Cogliano are thinking more along the lines of MacTavish.

They expect the transition from last March to this October to be seamless.

"I just feel that all three of us are better players than last year," said Nilsson. "I feel faster and more confident than any other season, and I think they feel the same. It feels like we're right where we were last year, but we want to be a lot better than that."

They also understand the expectations are exponentially higher than last season -- the kids are being counted on the produce and the Oilers are being counted on to make the playoffs -- so there won't be time to ease into the season. MacTavish still has all those viable options if for some reason they can't rediscover their chemistry.

"If we're not contributing, we're not going to be playing together," said Gagner. "We have so much depth on this team that anybody can play with anybody.

"So if we want to stick together, we really have to push each other and continue to have success out there."

They're a lot more comfortable and confident out there after the success they enjoyed last season, but not so comfortable and confident they think anything will be handed to them this year. Which is good.

"It's a fine line," said Cogliano, who had a breakaway in overtime against the Panthers that could have won it. "You have a lot of guys who are here pushing for spots, you have (Rob) Schremp and (Gilbert) Brule; they're offensive players, too. If guys like us don't really perform, you can't keep us in a slotted position or give us a lot of minutes.

"We constantly have to prove ourselves. This is only our second year in the league. We're not 10-, 11-year vets, we can't get too comfortable.

"We've done a lot to get into the situation we're in now, but you can't sit back."


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